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Wealthy nations must act now

 G Srinivasan |  2016-11-05 21:36:19.0  |  New Delhi

Wealthy nations must act now

Humans have finally found a way out from the morass of inaction to lift themselves with a spark of hope for a better standard of life for all in their eternal struggle to preserve planetary balance. Signatories to the Paris accord of late 2015 undertook to limit global warming to well below 2 degree Celsius.

In a nuanced way, India did a positive makeover in its official policies on climate change negotiations by assuming a proactive and dynamic approach to a global challenge as otherwise it genuinely feared endangering the existence of millions of its denizens in the light of unprecedented climatic aberrations in geographically different parts of India in recent times. The tsunami and unprecedented flood in Tamil Nadu, the flash floods and cloudbursts in Uttarakhand, and unseasonal torrential rains in various regions of the country in the recent past are testament to the shape of things to come if the authorities remained unfocused on environmental stability. It is these natural contretemps that might have swayed the Modi Government to be alive to the inherent risks if the business-as-usual approach is adopted and propelled it in Paris to vow to prune carbon emissions, move towards renewable energy sources with redoubled resources and zeal and invest massively in green energy technology.

It is evident that from Paris in 2015 where a global pact on climate change got stitched by well-nigh all nations in the universe, India submitted the ratification documents to the United Nations in New York on October 2, 2016. India thus gave a singular signal its core commitment to the cause of environmental protection. The ratification is done ahead of the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakesh, Morocco on November 7 to 18. New Delhi also unveiled its voluntary action plan to cut down carbon emissions on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on October 2 this year.

It needs to be put in perspective that India had committed itself to reducing the emission intensity of its gross domestic product by 33 to 35 percent from 2005 levels and generate 40 percent of its cumulative electric power from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources.

Be that as it may, it is pertinent to what had supervened in Kigali, Rwanda. Nearly 200 nations, after ten months of marathon negotiations from Paris, collectively gave their imprimatur on a global climate deal to cut down the emissions of greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that could mitigate up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100. The agreement also ended a decade of negotiations under the Montreal Protocol established in 1987 to safeguard the ozone layer. Under the new pact, developed nations will reduce HFCs 85 percent below current levels by 2036, while developing countries have until the mid-2040s.

The Montreal Protocol was instituted under the Vienna Convention for the protection of the ozone layer. It followed conclusive evidence that chlorine atoms were damaging the stratospheric ozone, which protects the earth from the most energetic ultraviolet radiation emanating from the sun. These chlorine atoms came from the refrigerant and propellant gases, the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that we were releasing into the atmosphere by reckless consumption and altered lifestyle habits as a badge of richness! However, by 1990, nations had consented to cut down production and consumption of CFCs and a timetable for their eventual phase-out over the next two decades. Here more time was sought for by developing nations, and they were allowed to do so, and a multilateral fund was also set up to help them meet their targets. With just a few exceptions, complex phase-out has been scored. As well as ozone protection, there was a climate benefit from phasing out the CFCs because they are much stronger greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide.

Related gases that were less damaging to the ozone layer, the hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) were next targeted, and they would have been phased out by about 2020.  Scientists contend that major replacements for the CFCs were the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Their molecules contain no chlorine, so they are “ozone-friendly”, but like the CFCs, these substances are serious global warmers. Before long, nations under the Montreal Protocol realised that by using the HFCs to replace ozone-depleting substances they had wittingly contributed to another environmental problem viz., global warming and climate change. Interestingly, despairing of any action under the climate change-focused Kyoto Protocol, the representatives of developed nations began to push for the addition of HFCs to the Montreal Protocol where production and consumption data could be monitored, and there was potential for an agreement to phase them out. It was in this backdrop that the Kigali meeting assumed significance.

According to an official statement of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): "the amendment to the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer endorsed in Kigali is the single largest contribution the world has made towards keeping the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at the Paris climate conference last year."

The growth of HFCs has mainly been goaded by a growing demand for cooling, especially in emerging and developing economies with a fast-expanding middle class and a flinty climate to contend with due to weather-related freakishness. The pact at Kigali no doubt provides for exemptions for countries with high ambient temperatures to phase down HFCs at a laggard pace. India has consented to freeze HFCs phase-down by 2028 with a rider for a review of technology sometime around 2020 or 2024, and if it finds that its refrigeration segment is growing at much faster clip and it cannot fulfil within the available refrigerant, then New Delhi will be free to go to 2030 as freeze year! The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is legally binding and would enter into force from January 1, 2019. 

For developing and emerging economies which are late comers to the club having made distinct advancement in living standards, the countries negotiating at Kigali also consented to accord adequate financing for HFCs reduction that runs into billions of dollars. Considering the fact that the rich world has been mostly stingy in delivering environment-related technology or its funding to their fellow-travelers in the globe, much hope is built on the forthcoming Marrakesh meeting where the members, particularly the wealthy, would voice their solidarity not only in words but also in action backed by adequate wherewithal to those who are left far behind in the development ladder, policy wonks wistfully contend.

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

G Srinivasan

G Srinivasan

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